Mexican Peasants Resist Land Grab for Hydro Dam
Tension is growing in the conflicted southern Mexican state of Guerrero over the planned La Parota hydro-electric dam on the Rio Papagayo. The project would inundate thousands of hectares of both forms of Mexico’s communally held peasant lands: ejidos (lands redistributed under the agrarian reform since the Revolution) and bienes comunales (lands traditionally belonging to a village or settlement). The Federal Electricity Commission and agrarian reform bureaucracy have been holding a series of meetings with peasant leaders to win their consent for the project. But opponents have assailed the meetings as a tool of the patronage system, and formed the Council of Ejidos and Communities Opposed to La Parota (CECOP). Opponents have been repeatedly threatened and harassed, and army troops have been mobilized to their protest camps. CECOP activist Tomas Cruz Zamora was assassinated in a mysterious incident in September 2005. But support is growing for the opposition to La Parota across Mexico’s national campesino movement. In April 2006, Subcommander Marcos of the Zapatista rebel movement met with CECOP leaders when he passed through Guerrero on his national tour, the “Other Campaign.”
The following report from the non-governmental organization International Peace Service (Servicio Internacional para la Paz—SIPAZ) includes the findings of a Civil Observation Mission formed to monitor the assemblies. The Civil Observation Mission is made up of various groups including SIPAZ, Peace Services & Conusltation (Servicios y Asesoría para la Paz—SERAPAZ), Amnesty International-Canada, the Mexican League in Defense of Human Rights (LIMEDDH), Calpulli Tlatoani, the Emiliano Zapata Union (UPREZ), and the Mexican Association of Families of the Detained and Disappeared (AFADEM). —WW4 REPORT
The hydroelectric dam project La Parota was developed by the Mexican government more than 30 years ago. The dam would affect 21 communities, including 17 ejidos and three common holdings (bienes comunales), constituting one of the largest in the world. It would flood 17,300 hectares of productive lands. More than 100,000 people would be affected by the dam. According to the Human Rights Center Montaña Tlachinollán, more than 25,000 people would be displaced as their lands would be flooded-although the Federal Electricity Commission (CFE) only recognizes that 3,000 people would be directly affected. Furthermore, the redirecting of the Rio Papagayo would deprive 75,000 people of access to water, including rural workers that need it for their crops. The CFE has not prepared any compensation for those indirectly affected.
According to the Economic and Political Investigation Center for Community Action (CIEPAC), the objective of the dam project is to provide energy to the maquiladoras, to the large tourist centers, to the cities (primarily Acapulco) and the mining industry—not to promote the development and meet the needs of the rural sector. It is also intended to supply electricity to the South of the United States and connect the Mexican and Central American electric grid.
The division and polarization that the project have provoked in recent years have resulted in a number of deaths, grave injuries and detentions. Confrontations during village assemblies [to discuss the project] have also caused a number of injuries.
The Legal Battle since 2005
In 2005 various ejidal assemblies were held to discuss whether or not to permit the project going forward. But the legitimacy of the assemblies were contested in four communities where the campesinos had supposedly agreed to the expropriation of their lands: Cacahuatepec, Los Huajes, La Palma and Dos Arroyos. The question in three is still pending, but the assembly in Cacahuatepec of March 27, 2007 was recognized as illegal. A new assembly was hurriedly called in Cacahuatepec on May , 2007, which SIPAZ attended as part of an observation mission.
The activists of the Council of Ejidos and Communities Opposed to La Parota (CECOP) are demanding that a consultation process be carried out that includes all of those affected by the project—not only the ones who appear on the voting rolls of the community assemblies, but also those in neighboring communities and landholdings—and that they be provided with exact and impartial information regarding the impact of the dam, and that all of those affected be compensated.
While demands to nullify the decisions of the four apparently irregular assemblies are pending, various resolutions were enacted in favor of CECOP in September 2006, barring the CFE and any other state or federal authority from entering the lands of those four communities to carry out any work relating to the hydroelectric project. In spite of this, the first access roads are being built to facilitate construction of the dam.
Various actors strongly criticized the ejidal and communal assemblies organized by the state and federal governments, saying that they amounted to a mechanism for the imposition of the hydroelectric project, not a true mechanism of consultation, in violation of the Agrarian Law.
Reactions by International Organizations
In March 2006, CECOP presented their case before the Latin American Water Tribunal (TLA), which ruled against construction of the dam project, and recommended its suspension. Various bodies of the United Nations have demonstrated their concern and have denounced irregularities in the project. Rodolfo Stavenhagen, the Special Rapporteur for Indigenous People, denounced the “abuses and violations of the indigenous rural workers in the state of Guerrero opposed to the construction of the dam La Parota in their territories, which the State insists on carrying out without the free consent of the population.”
In May 2006, the UN Committee for the Economic, Social and Cultural Rights of the United Nations declared their concern about the lack of consultation with the indigenous communities, as well as the environmental damage that would result from the project. In March , Amerigo Incalcaterra, Mexican representative of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, visited the territoriy of La Parota to meet with the affected population in the communities of Garrapatas and Tasajeras, and noted the lack of information and transparent consultation in this project.
Since 2004, Amnesty International has been documenting the violence surrounding La Parota dam project, particularly the homicides of three people and injuries and death threats against a local activist. The organization does not have any knowledge that progress has been made in official investigations into these incidents.
Amnesty International declared May 2, 2007, that they “feared for the security” of the members of the CECOP, and that their lives “may be in danger” because of their resistance to the dam project. It questioned the consultation to be held in Cacahuatepec on May 6, noting the danger of violent actions against those in opposition.
La Parota Civil Observation Mission, a collective made up of 36 people from 16 organizations and national and international networks, visited the zone affected by construction of the dam on the May 5-6 of May and found the following:
According to the Council of Ejidos and Communities Opposing “La Parota” (CECOP), the agrarian assembly convened May 6 in San Juan Grande, in the municipality of Acapulco, had the objective of legitimizing the expropriation of communal lands in order to begin construction of the hydroelectric “mega-project” La Parota. This assembly was another attempt to repeat what was carried out in San Marcos on August 23, 2005, which was recently annulled (March 27, 2007) by the United Agrarian Tribunal in favor of the opposition.
Faced with this new assembly and the threat of repression or provocation by the authorities, we are carrying out this civil observation mission in order to verify the proceedings… The mission comes in response to the national and international alerts issued by the CECOP…
The civil mission observed the following:
1. To begin, it should be pointed out that we are dealing with an assembly whose convening is irregular for the following reasons:
First, through various testimonies from different communal authorities, we were informed that the call for the assembly was not posted in the most visible places of the commonal lands (bienes comunales) as demanded by Article 25 of the Agrarian Law.
Second, that the assembly was convened in a different place than that recognized by the traditional laws (usos y costumbres) of the inhabitants of communal lands. These are traditionally carried out in the municipal seat (cabacera) of Cacahuatepec.
2. As for the assembly itself we state the following:
The [dialogue] table was not installed because the comisariado [communal chairman] did not bring the official rolls containing the names of inhabitants of communal lands, contrary to the regulations of the Agrarian Law.
Nevertheless the agrarian authority requested that the registration begin, and only two people signed in-without any identification or document accrediting them as inhabitants of communal lands.
Immediately after, the Comisariado suspended the Assembly saying that there was not sufficient quorum, with only 543 inhabitants of communal lands-a number impossible to corroborate since the roll was never taken.
Fifteen minutes after having arrived, the officials left, and on their way out signed and posted a call for a second assembly, apparently planned beforehand. The proof lies in the fact that in the call for the second assembly, the annulment of the first assembly is justified by the “violent events.” Here it is important to point out that, in the entire process, there was no violence or attempted physical aggression by those present, as demonstrated by the photographs, videos and testimonies collected by the Civil Observation Mission. This represents a contradiction to the arguments used by the comisariado to nullify the assembly.
Conclusions and Recommendations
The mission finds that assemblies of this nature do not constitute an adequate mechanism of consultation as determined by Convention 169 of the International Labor Organization (ILO). According to the information we have, there are 43,000 inhabitants of the communal lands of Cacahuatepec, and the lists only register 7,280; because of this it is clear that these assemblies exclude the majority of the affected population.
We find that the assembly was irregular for the aforementioned reasons.
The Civil Observation Mission expresses its concern that the assembly was not organized in good faith and that it could have the objective of marginalizing the movement opposing the dam, criminalizing it and thereby justifying the use of violence and repression. The presence of security forces could be justified in future assemblies in order to impose the project.
We are concerned that with the annulment of the communal assembly, the ensuing assemblies will require a lower quorum in order to be valid, which could be used as a strategy by the authorities to facilitate the imposition of the project.
We restate that there was no violence by any participating party, and that the opposition movement has continued its peaceful and legal struggle to defend their rights as pueblos.
We view with concern that behind the false claims of violence from the opposition, harassment, threats and repression could be justified by the authorities.
We ask that all of the communities affected by the construction of the hydroelectric dam project La Parota be guaranteed complete, exact and impartial information about the project and the available compensations, and that the opposition not suffer threats and intimidation, and be free to carry out legitimate protests against the construction of the dam. We also demand compliance with all international treaties and agreements on human rights signed and ratified by Mexico.
We recommend that the upcoming assemblies be public, as laid out in the Agrarian Law, allowing national and international civil society to observe the proceedings.
The observation mission is views with concern the potential for [irregular] communal assemblies may be a factor leading to inter-communal violence and confrontations in the upcoming assemblies between the opposition and those in favor [of the project].
The civil mission is committed to continue with its work for the next assembly on May 20, and issues a strong call to public opinion and civil society to remain alert to the situation arising from the imposition of the hydroelectric project La Parota.
Guerrero: hydro-dam opponent arrested
WW4 REPORT, April 27, 2007
Zapatistas on “red alert” again
WW4 REPORT, May 5, 2006
Mexico: campesino leaders assassinated in Guerrero
WW4 REPORT, Oct. 13, 2005
Mexico: campesino ecologists under threat
WW4 REPORT, July 7, 2004
Reprinted and translated by WORLD WAR 4 REPORT, June 1, 2007
Reprinting permissible with attribution